Legends Spotlight: AJ English, Jessie Hicks and Johnny Newman

June 5, 2017

Last Saturday the National Basketball Retired Players Association hosted the latest edition of its youth basketball and mentoring program called “Full Court Press: Prep for Success”. Several former NBA/WNBA standouts were in attendance at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center in Richmond including Johnny Newman/Terry Davis/AJ English/Jesse Hicks. The program travels all over the country to introduce kids to positive role models in both basketball and life. NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has spent time talking with many of the greatest players in NBA/WNBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with a few of the above players about their roles with the Full Court Press program and their past basketball successes.

AJ English
What is your coaching philosophy on the court? I just try to teach the fundamentals before I know what the kids are capable of, and once I figure out their skill level I tailor it to that.

What do you hope that the kids get out of this great experience? I hope they learn the importance of working hard and not taking short cuts. If they pay attention and are coachable, they will become better.

What were the best/worst parts of going from active to retired? The best part is getting to stay in shape despite having a different level of conditioning. However, I definitely missed the camaraderie of my teammates because everyone has their own lives after they retire.

How did you end up as a member of the National Basketball Retired Players Association? I was interested in some of the things they were doing with youth. I operate a youth program myself and I like to give back in that capacity to kids who are dealing with similar situations to what I saw while growing up.

You played at Virginia Union where you were a 2-time CIAA Slam Dunk champion: what was your vertical leap? It was a while ago so I do not recall.
In 1990 you were named NCAA D-2 national POY: what did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? I felt that it was a reward for all my hard work and having my teammates/coaches believing in me. It was definitely a good time and I enjoyed my senior year.

In the summer of 1990 you were drafted 37th overall by Washington (8 spots ahead of Antonio Davis): did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA, or other? Anytime someone thinks enough of you to help you make a living it feels good. It was kind of bittersweet because I was projected to go higher, but it was absolutely a promise fulfilled.

You averaged 9.9 PPG during your 2 seasons with the Bullets: what is your favorite memory from your time in the NBA? There is no 1 specific moment that stood out: the only thing that I would have changed is that I would have stayed in the NBA rather than going overseas to make some more money. I liked everything about the NBA experience: the travel, getting prepared for the season, and then showcasing your talent on the floor.
You spent several years after that playing pro overseas: what is the biggest difference between basketball in the US vs. basketball in other countries? When I was in Europe there were a lot of guys like Toni Kukoc/Dino Radja who were still there before heading to the NBA. The NBA was faster/more athletic but the big guys in Europe could stretch the floor and shoot threes.

In 2004 you were inducted into the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? Being recognized after your career is over is always an honor, but it was for my body of work that was already done. I felt grateful but it was not something that I was planning for.

Last fall you became a volunteer assistant to Doug Overton with the Lincoln University Lions: what do you hope to do in the future? I have a mentoring program with at-risk youth in Delaware. I was in Richmond this weekend because we are planning to transition the program here in the future.

Your son AJ was 2000-PT scorer at Iona and now plays pro overseas: how proud are you of all his success, and who is the best athlete in the family? I am extremely proud to get to see his own hard work/maturation. I am proud of my other son/daughter as well but he has definitely carried the torch on the basketball court. I guess my kids are the most athletic right now…but compared to when I was young…I do not know!

 

 

 

Jessie Hicks
Being a part of the NBRPA with other legends of basketball, how beneficial is the organization to players who are embarking on life after basketball? It offers a lot of post-pro basketball opportunities and allows us to continue our life after basketball.

In what ways has your involvement in the NBRPA helped you become an advocate to other retired players? I am new to the organization but it is a great way to reach out to other players. Johnny Newman helped me get started, which was a great thing, and now I can reach out to other players to see if they want to join the NBRPA and help build up our membership. 1 thing that is really great is that anyone in the state can participate in the clinic so they do not need to try to bring in players from other states.

Who was your favorite team/player growing up, and who is your favorite team/player these days? My favorite team was the Lakers: I loved the way that Magic Johnson got everyone involved. Now I like Golden State because everyone plays their roles. I really like Steph Curry’s tenacity.

You have accomplished so many things on the court, but what do you seek to accomplish off the court? I retired back in 2005 and became a high school coach. I have run a few clinics and have also done some 1-on-1 training. I became an elementary school counselor after getting my Masters, and have some other creative things that I want to bring to light. I also have 2 children who keep me busy and allow me to be more of a mother than a businesswoman.

You were 6’4” in high school: did you see your size as an advantage or disadvantage on the court? It was definitely an advantage, but playing against other great players helped me elevate my game. Most post players overseas got paid more, which was a big advantage.

You were a 2-time 1st-team All-ACC player at Maryland: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? It means a lot because it showed that my hard work had paid off and other people thought highly of me. My coaches helped develop my game: I did not reach that status all by myself. Coach Chris Weller knows how to coach both guards and forwards and she helped me get a position in the WNBA.

In the 1992 ACC tourney quarterfinals you had 21 PTS/11 REB but Joyce Pierce rebounded her own miss and scored at the buzzer in a 1-PT upset by Georgia Tech: how were the Yellow Jackets able to come all the way back from a 17-PT 2nd half deficit? We did not keep the momentum going and had some missed assignments. It was a learning experience for us: we had to run a mile the very next day because our coach was unhappy with us, but we ended up making it all the way to the Elite 8 and fell only a few points shy of making the Final 4. We had a great team that year and brought back a lot of talent the following year as well.

In the spring of 1997 you were selected 12th overall by Utah in the inaugural WNBA draft (2 spots ahead of Tamecka Dixon): did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of playing pro basketball, or other? It was a bit of both. As a woman back in the 1970s there was no WNBA so at 1st my plan was to go play pro overseas. It was a continuation of my dream to eventually play in the US and have my family come watch me in person. I remember my 1st year when we played in Charlotte: I had about 10 relatives drive down from Richmond to watch me play. Hard work does pay off, even though a lot of young kids these days just do not get it. I thank the WNBA for giving all of us an opportunity.

You spent 6 seasons in the WNBA and later played pro overseas: what is the biggest difference between basketball in the US vs. basketball in other countries? #1: salary! The culture is also very different: I got to travel all over Europe and see so many countries and meet all kinds of new people. However, there is nothing like being home with your friends/family.

In 2013 you were named 1 of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament Legends: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? There have been a lot of “legends” who have come through the ACC so that is right at the top. To be 1 of the top-50 was a great honor.

You currently work as a high school girls’ basketball coach in Richmond: how do you like the job, and what do you hope to do in the future? I coached college players in the past and I would like to get back into that in the future. I also want to tap into some of my other goals like having a clothing line for tall women and inspirational t-shirts. I love working with youth so I would love to have my own youth center that does sports/enrichment programs. And of course, providing for my children is the most important thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Newman
What was your transition like from active player to retired player? I had a wonderful transition. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family so I learned from my father/grandfather the importance of always keeping myself busy. I understood how to do a lot of different things and got involved in real estate/other businesses.

Why did you decide to join the National Basketball Retired Players Association? The biggest part for me was the chance to remain active after serving as a player rep during my career. I wanted to improve both on and off the court and give a helping hand to younger guys who were trying to learn the system, so I did not have a 2nd thought about joining.

What is the biggest benefit of being part of the NBRPA? 1st of all, since the league is changing and going in a fantastic direction, it is nice to see that the NBRPA has had great communication with them. You need to stay connected so that you are aware of all the changes to the pension/health care/etc. It can help not only you but also your family members.
How do older players serve as advocates to younger players? There are so many great guys out there who have so much knowledge. I wish there were even more opportunities for guys to connect with younger players so that the learning curve could be even faster.

In 1984 you were named conference POY at Richmond and you remain the all-time leading scorer in school history: what was your secret for being such a great scorer? You have to be able to score from anywhere, be a good FT shooter, and just practice. You need the demeanor to step up whenever needed. I had a great career at Richmond even though we did not have a 3-PT line at the time. I tease the younger guys because a lot of my shots back in the day were from the parking lot!

In the summer of 1986 you were drafted by Cleveland: what was your 1st impression of the rest of the amazing Cavaliers draft class (future All-Stars Mark Price/Brad Daugherty/Ron Harper)? Coming from a small town you would always try to figure out who were the best high school players in the state, and in college you would try to figure out the best guys around the country. We had so much talent in that draft class, along with Hot Rod, who had sat out the previous year. It was very competitive every day, which helped me become a better player.

Take me through the 1993 Eastern Conference 1st round with Charlotte:
In Game 1 against the Celtics, Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court right next to you and died 3 months later from a heart defect: could you tell at the time whether he was just tired or if it was something much worse than that? I was checking him but when he went down I could tell that something was really wrong. My 1st instinct was to try to go double-team someone else, but then we all realized that Reggie was not getting up.

In Game 4 Alonzo Mourning made a jumper with 0.4 seconds left to clinch the series: where does that rank among the most clutch shots that you have ever seen, and what was the reaction like in the locker room afterward? We were ecstatic: when big guys make jumpers it is very special. Zo always worked on that shot in practice and was able to knock down 1 of the biggest shots in franchise history.

You played 16 seasons in the NBA with 7 different teams: how were you able to separate the sports side of basketball from the business side? I experienced 2 different lockouts so I just had to do what was best for me and my family. I felt like I was a major contributor for every team I played on. I understand that it is a business, which helped me understand that I had to take care of my body/mentality. I only worried about what I could control, and that kept me in the league for a long time.

You played in more than 1150 career games: did most of your teammates follow your lead by never drinking alcohol or staying out late or were you the exception to the rule? All I can say is that there were some guys who lived differently than I did!

In 2011 you were inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame: where does that rank among the highlights of your career? It was major for me because so many great players have come from Virginia, and to have my parents get to experience that was also big.